Politicians Grappling Over Troubled South Carolina State University

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State Senate leaders have joined the increasing number of people would like to see the leadership at the financially troubled South Carolina State University change.

A bill was recently introduced by Senate President Pro Tempore Hugh Leatherman that would replace the trustees at the state’s only historically black public college, giving temporary control to a five-member board appointed by the governor and House and Senate leaders.

New trustees for the college would be required to have experience in either finance, higher education administration or public administration.  The board would run the school until June 30, 2018.  At that time, a new trustees board would be elected by the General Assembly.

Leatherman, who also chairs the Senate Finance Committee, making him one of the most powerful legislators in the state, said he does not have any faith in the current trustees at the school after a panel, which he chairs, granted the school $12 million over three years in December.  The school received the initial payment of $1.5 million, but continued to increase the amount of money owed to its vendors from $1 million to $11 million.

“I wanted to give them that opportunity to show the General Assembly that they were serious about what had to be done to keep them from continuing down the road they were on,” Leatherman said Thursday. “They’ve had that opportunity. … It’s obvious to everyone that they seem to keep getting deeper and deeper in the hole.”

The school currently has a $17 million deficit because it neglected to cut its budget enough to make up for the financial impact of its decreasing enrollment, which is down by 40% over the last 8 years to under 3,000 students.  The school also needs to repay a $6 million state loan by June 30 of this year, writes Andrew Shain for The State.

The bill would also allow the temporary board to decide whether or not to keep S.C. State president Thomas Elzey.

State Sen. Darrell Jackson, co-sponsor of the bill, said he does not expect Elzey to stay on in his role as president, as he has recently faced much criticism over his slow movements to fix the financial crisis at the school, as well as issues occurring with the school’s administration.

“We’re talking about a clean slate,” Jackson said. “The public would have such disgust if we allowed leadership to stay with how they have handled this.”

An overhaul of the trustees in this way could give the school a renewal in its fight to get its academic accreditation off probation.

The accreditation is currently on probation with the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges due to concerns over finance and governance.  The status at the school is up for review in June.

Students who attend unaccredited schools are unable to receive federal financial aid.